If you were to say you are a tolerant person, would you be casting yourself in a positive light or unintentionally exposing a character flaw?
I don’t often come across this word on too many resumes, nor hear when I listen to most people describe themselves in interviews; particularly with the, “Tell me about yourself” question. However, I have come across this word several times in the last week when reading some LinkedIn profiles, and in correspondence I’ve received from job seekers. Each time I read the word, I became aware that I was conflicted reacting to the word. I knew the writers using it intended to be speaking positively about themselves, so why then was I unsettled with the choice of the word?
Tolerate: Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of things one does not necessarily like or agree with, such as opinions or behaviour, without interference.
So I started to imagine myself in my workplace; I imagined all sorts of people in their workplaces too. I conceived of situations we all might have where other people held opinions that we didn’t like or agree with, where people were behaving in ways we didn’t like or agree with. Finally I imagined myself allowing the existence and practice of those same behaviours and opinions.
Somehow, I find myself accepting of others opinions that I don’t necessarily agree with much easier to accept than I do behaviours. I’ve no right to impose my opinion on someone else with the expectation they change theirs to mirror my own, any more than that person has a right to expect me to change mine to match theirs. I have no qualms with this part of what it means to be tolerant. In fact, it is in differing opinions that I – that we – learn. When exposed to the differing views of others, we are afforded a chance to perceive something from a differing view, and with that new information re-evaluate our opinions or behaviours.
When we outright dismiss another person’s point of view, we run a risk of dismissing the person who holds it, and every experience in their past which has led them to hold the view they now have. Opinions we hold are after all, the summation of all our experiences to date. We shape our opinions based on what we’ve seen, read, heard, felt, tasted and experienced. With everything we experience we either solidify our opinions or we adjust them. So it stands to reason when someone or some group holds a differing opinion, we have a chance to hear why, learn and then choose to maintain our view or modify it.
Allowing the occurrence of behaviour I don’t necessarily like or agree with however, is something I find harder in some situations. Here I believe I’ve hit upon what rubs me the wrong way when I read others describe themselves as tolerant.
In most organizations, there is a person or group at the top that hold a common belief system. They refer to this as their values. It is their expressed objective to bring people on board who share or develop similar beliefs in order for those beliefs and values to be consistently experienced by end-users. When consumers experience the same behaviours with each interaction no matter the representative of the company, that consistency brands the company and reinforces the view the consumer has. They come to expect – be it positive or negative in their mind – to be treated a certain way, to experience service a certain way, and come to know therefore the company in the same consistent way. This is branding.
When an employee holds an opinion that varies from those of the larger company; they may choose or not to make that opinion known. However, behaviours and actions are observable, and when those behaviours appear to fly in the face of the values the company purports to uphold and believe, the consumer is conflicted, the brand weakened. This is one of the biggest fears organizations have. Too many people acting and behaving in ways that differ from the organizations expectations, and the brand loses its strength and becomes muddied.
When you observe a co-worker behaving or acting with a client or customer in a way you know contradicts the beliefs or values of your organization, tolerating such behaviour may not be best advised. Tolerance here may become a flaw. The real challenge is to correctly identify which differing behaviours and opinions to respect and leave unchallenged, and which behaviours and opinions to openly address and how.
Not all of us are comfortable addressing the opinions and behaviours of others any more than we are comfortable having our own opinions and behaviours discussed.
In the workplace, sound advice is to identify the behaviour (not the people themselves), that is at the crux of any discomfort you experience, and assess if it flies in the face of your own opinions and behaviours and/or those of the organization. It’s a fine line allowing individual expression; thought and behaviour while at the same time having everyone pull in the same direction.
Tolerating behaviour and opinions sometimes is the thing to do. Other times, those opinions and behaviours need to be challenged and discouraged; especially when those opinions and behaviours depart from the organization expectations, or when the people stating them demand your conversion to their views. Knowing which is the real test of good judgement.